Ogre Battle is one of the very few real-time strategy RPGs to be released for a console. In this dangerous fantasy realm, it really is not just about winning, but how you get to your victory.
Ogre Battle was originally released for the Super NES in 1994 by Enix of America. Although the game was very popular and sold out fast, the money it made wasn’t enough to save Enix of America from crumbling. As a result, not enough copies were made, and the game became a highly demanded rare find. Fast forward 2 years, Artdink, a little known Japanese developer gets a license from Quest to make Ogre Battle into a PlayStation game. Atlus USA then gets the rights to the game and capitalizes on the demand for Ogre Battle in North America.
25 years ago, the prosperous empire of Zenobia was plunged into a period of war and tyranny. It all happened when good King Gran’s lifelong friend, the sage Rashidi, conspired with the Dark Empress Endora of Zetegenia, and the two of them masterminded a takeover of Zenobia. This plot culminated with the murder of King Gran, and the complete domination of the continent within a single year. Throughout Endora’s reign, many loyal supporters King Gran have been tortured and killed, and the people have been made subject to martial law under the jurisdiction of Zetegenia’s top generals. However, all these years, rebels have started to band together and train for a new war. Their goal: to restore Zenobia to its former glory.
Now, the Astrologer Warren believes that he has found the person with the strength, the intelligence, and the leadership talent to guide the remaining rebel forces to victory. This is the person you will play as. When the game begins, Warren conducts an interview with you followed by a small, informative lesson on the battlefield. In the interview, you not only give you Lord character a name and a gender, but your answers to Warren’s questions determine the types of attacks you will be able to use. After this little exercise, your first 50 troops, which is a mixed bag of Fighters, Wizards, Amazons, Healers, Hellhounds, Gryphons, and many other soldiers and critters. Now that you have your army, what you do with it is up to you. Are you going to set things right, or are you even worse than Empress Endora? You decide!
If you generally use troops that are lower in level than the enemy, use high-alignment troops to liberate them, and keep liberated cities guarded, and make the right decisions, your reputation will be good. If, on the other hand, you concentrate all your power into just a few, really strong units, fail to keep cities guarded, make deals with thieves, and make unpopular decisions, you will become infamous.
The way you progress through Ogre Battle will ultimately bring you to one of 13 possible endings. Through your battles and explorations, you will come across a multitude of characters to recruit, towns to visit, and treasures to find. Your ending is determined by how many, and which ones, you choose to take, and by how you fight your battles. The main factors that affect the storyline and which opportunities will appear to you are your army’s reputation, your Lord character’s alignment and charisma, and which secrets you have discovered.
The gameplay of Ogre Battle is somewhat more complex than a normal strategy game. Before a battle begins, you must arrange your characters into units. Each unit can fit 5 characters, unless the unit has any large monsters, who count as 2 characters. After assembling your units, you can pick a battle site on the map and begin the fight. Once you’re in battle, you may deploy your units. Including your Lord character’s unit, you can have up to 10 units deployed at one time. Similarly, the enemy can have up to 10 units at once. Once deployed, you can move your units anywhere on the map as long as the leader of that unit is still alive. If a unit’s leader dies, it no longer follow orders and will automatically go back to your base. Your units must not only topple the enemy’s boss, but liberate the towns in the area as well. Meanwhile, you must prevent your Lord character from dying in battle, which results in a Game Over, and you must prevent the enemy from capturing your base, which causes your army to be removed from the area and requires you to re-start the battle.
The next part of the gameplay, where the combat of Ogre Battle takes place, is the skirmish. A skirmish begins when one your units and one of the enemy’s units are close to one another. Although you don’t directly control your troops, you do have some control over which enemy you attack. You have the ability to set battle tactics for each unit and change them mid-skirmish. Battle Tactics include Best (eliminate enemies that pose the greatest threat), Strong (attack the enemy with the most HP remaining), Weak (attack the enemy with the fewest remaining HP), and Leader (attack the unit’s leader).
Another thing you can do during a skirmish is play Tarot Cards. There are 22 Tarot Cards, and each one has a different special effect when used in battle. For example, the Emperor Card gives all of your characters an additional attack, and the Justice Card creates a snowstorm that deals water based damage to the enemy unit.
Finally, you have the ability to retreat from a skirmish, which will always succeed in an escape, but it also causes an automatic loss. The skirmish ends when all characters’ actions have been executed or when one of the units has been completely defeated. If both units still have survivors at the end of the skirmish, the unit that dealt the most damage to the opposing unit, excluding damage dealt by Tarot Cards, is the Winner. After the winner has been declared, the battle screen re-appears, and the losing unit is pushed back a short distance, unless it was completely defeated, in which case it is removed from the screen. Boss units are an exception to the rules of winning a skirmish. If the boss character is killed, the skirmish immediately ends, regardless of other enemy characters, with your unit winning and the battle ends in a victory for you. However, if the boss is still alive at the end of the skirmish, his or her unit wins regardless of how much damage was dealt.
Yours and the enemy’s warriors come from a very wide selection of humans, monsters, and everything in-between. Every character class has several important things associated with it. Most significant are its battle actions. Each character has two types of actions they can execute during a skirmish, one they do when they are in the front row, and one for the rear row. For example, a Mage gets 2 attacks with his staff in the front row, but in the rear, he will cast 1 spell that affects all the enemies in the opposing unit.
Another key aspect of a character is its movement type and degree of influence. The movement type of a unit will affect how fast it will travel over different types of terrain, and which type of terrain it will fight best on. The movement type for the unit is the movement type for the character in that unit that has the highest influence. For example, a unit containing a Knight, a Healer, a Valkyrie, and a Gryphon will be a High Sky unit because the Gryphon, a flying character, is the largest character in the unit. However, a unit containing a Gryphon, and Octopus, and a Wizard will be a Sea unit because in this case the Octopus has the most influence. The other aspects of each character class include the rate at which their strength, intelligence, agility, HP, and deployment cost increase.
Other aspects of a character include their Alignment and Charisma. These scores don’t simply rise with level as other attributes do. Rather, they change based on the enemies the character fights. Alignment is a number from 0 to 100 that evaluates how good or evil a character is. 50 is neutral, under 30 is evil, and over 70 is good. Fighting enemies who are higher in level will increase alignment, but alignment will decrease if a character kills a healer, or kills an opponent whose level is lower than his or hers. A character’s alignment determines how your reputation will be affected when that character liberates a town, whether they fight better at night or during the day, and it is a determining factor for class changes.
Charisma is a measure of a character’s leadership talent, and it affects how powerful a unit is when that character is leading it. Charisma also determines your ability to persuade neutral characters into becoming allies. Charisma usually rises as a character’s unit wins battles, but it can decrease if a character kills a very large number of weaker opponents. Charisma also decreases when a character runs away from a skirmish. Ogre Battle also has a job system, allowing you to change your characters into new, more powerful classes. Eligibility for class changes and promotions depends on the character’s current class, their experience level, their Alignment and Charisma scores, and in some cases, possession of special items.
For example, a Fighter can become a Knight or a Samurai if his Alignment and Charisma are both above 50 and his level is at least 7. If however his Alignment is below 50, he can become a Berserker or a Ninja. If he becomes a Knight, he will have 2 sword attacks in the front row and 1 sword attack in the rear. When this Knight reaches level 15, if his Alignment is at least 70 and his Charisma at least 60, he can upgrade from a Knight to a Paladin, who has 3 sword attacks in the front row and 1 use of Healing Magic in the rear. A few characters, including your Lord, have unique, special classes that cannot be attained through promotion.
Ogre Battle isn’t very difficult on the whole, but there are ways to make it a bigger challenge. It’s fairly easy to make your units stronger than any of the enemies’ units, but doing so will hurt your reputation Still, even with lower level troops, you have several extra advantages over the enemy that make it possible to win battles and improve your reputation. The most difficult parts of Ogre Battle are the boss fights. Bosses are usually a few levels higher than anyone else on the map. Bosses not only have incredible attacks usually powerful enough to kill your soldiers off in no time, but they are also hard to hit, and are very durable even when you manage to hit them. They also recover HP because they are sitting on the base, so you musty keep attacking them to win.
Furthermore, any enemies in the boss’s unit that are killed in combat will be replaced with identical charters at full life While it’s easy to attack a boss with Tarot cards, killing the boss or any other enemy with a card will transfer all of the experience of the battle to your Lord, which makes it hard for him or her to have a high alignment. This is why advancing further along in the game is easy, but achieving the best ending is a challenge. However, even if you’re not shooting for the best ending, say if you just want to be yourself, or if you intentionally try for a bad ending, there will definitely be some tough battles.
Playing Ogre Battle is very fun. I thoroughly enjoyed commanding my troops, exploring the lands for hidden towns and treasures, and taking on all the enemies. What I most liked was the wide selection of characters to play as, especially the ultra powerful hidden characters. The desire to get all the high-end character classes, including the seraphims, the large dragons, the muses, and the sorcerers and liches kept me addicted to this game. The hidden characters in Ogre Battle are all very powerful warriors, and as long as you use their talents responsibly, they will be great assets to your cause and lots of fun to play with. All possible paths through the game will be fun and challenging, each in its own way.
A new, much needed feature of the PlayStation Ogre Battle is an improved save system. Not only can the memory card provide up to 7 saves, but now you can save during battle, as long as its not mid-skirmish. Since battles can sometimes take nearly 4 hours to complete, this is a very welcome improvement. Another gameplay addition for the PlayStation version is the ability is have a unit make multiple moves in one command. This way, they can liberate several towns without needing new orders every time, and you can have more control over how they reach their destinations. The PlayStation version of Ogre Battle is also less prone to slowdown than the Super NES version. Plus, the fastest setting on the PlayStation Ogre Battle is significantly faster than the Super NES Ogre Battle’s highest possible speed.
However, there is one downside in terms of gameplay for the PlayStation Ogre Battle: long loading times! The game has to reload every time a skirmish takes place, and it usually spends at least 3 seconds before and 3 seconds after loading the skirmish and loading back to the battle. The story of Ogre Battle features an interesting main plot and a multitude of side stories. With each passing battle, you will learn more of the empire’s dirty secrets, and more about how the empire’s tyranny has affected people in each specific area. You will also see how the people of Zenobia view you. The story is non-linear; there are several possible outcomes. The story mainly focuses on the nation as a whole, as there is only a small amount of character interaction. However, when characters do talk, they reveal a great deal about themselves.
The story is kept alive and strong by Atlus’s fantastic translation. Atlus’s translation features improved, clearer sounding dialogue over the Super NES version’s translation. In many places, the dialogue is funny. While there aren’t a lot of pop culture references, which Atlus is known for, there are a few little jokes and some good expressions of emotion. Whereas the Super NES Ogre Battle used a normal font for the dialogue, the PlayStation version uses a Gothic style text font. Another change in the text is the item screen. Before, all items had an abbreviated name on the list, and the full name was displayed when the item was analyzed. Now, the full names are always shown. The item analyses are the same in both versions. A few character classes were translated differently in the PlayStation version. I also noticed one typo in the character classes. In the Super NES version, and Imp becomes a Demon and then a Devil. In the PlayStation version, a Devil becomes a Demon, and then becomes a Devil (again).
I may have thought the Super NES Ogre Battle music was great, but the PlayStation version’s music is fabulous. All the music scores have been remastered and re-arranged to sound better than ever. Through the magic of Redbook audio, the music of Ogre Battle now features real instruments and singing voices. This new music truly captivates players into a war for freedom in this gothic, fantasy realm. My favorite songs from the PlayStation Ogre Battle are the Overture and “Guerilla Battle”. Both of these tunes have brand new introductions that lead into the traditional-but-enhanced songs from the original game. Another song that underwent big improvement is “Beginning of the Tale”, which now has a voice narrating the prologue to the story. I like having this voice there, but I also thought this voice was too quiet. Still, it helps set the background information for the story, and provides a more effective presentation than only having the text.
One downside I found to the PlayStation version’s music was that some of the extra sounds in the background music were made quieter, but on the whole, the soundtrack was nicely redone. The sound effects were also seriously improved. Weapon attacks, thunder booming, spells being cast, and all other battle actions are louder and have a good, striking sound. Sound effects on the battle map have been made louder and more realistic sounding. The voice narration was also much better in the PlayStation version. The voices were crystal clear, and spoken very well, and they help keep your attention and involvement.
The PlayStation version of Ogre Battle also features enhanced graphics. Now, the edit screen isn’t just text and icons, but you also see a picture of the character’s sprite whenever viewing their status, provided they are in a unit. Also, you can press the X button to see that character attack. The battle maps look mostly the same. The visuals during the skirmish show the most significant improvements. Character sprites are taller than before, and are as well detailed in terms of clothing and equipment as they always were. All attacks, both physical and magical, have better animation. Characters executing physical strikes will now approach their target to attack. The special effects for magic and Tarot cards are now faster and more explosive. Almost all spells use more sprites, and in some cases, polygons were used to animate magic attacks. Finally, face portraits of important characters use more colors and have a more lifelike appearance. If you thought Deneb was beautiful on the Super NES, wait ’till you see her on PlayStation!
With its completely unique gameplay and unprecedented replay value, Ogre Battle is a game like no other. If you like strategy games, Ogre Battle should be right up your alley. I’ll warn you that it is a long game: it could take 80 or even 100 hours to complete, but it’s a fun time the whole way. And the trip is well worth it too: I won’t spoil the best ending, I’ll just say that if you earn it, and you’ll know if you did, it will not disappoint you. It is somewhat easier to find the PlayStation version of Ogre Battle than it is to find the Super NES version, but either one will likely cost around $50. I totally recommend Ogre Battle on either system, but all in all, I prefer the PlayStation Ogre Battle.